Never Be Alone by Paige Dearth is the second book of hers that I've read. It got me hooked. As soon as I finished it, I bought another one--Mean Little People. She has five books so far, and more in the works, of course. Her writing is heartfelt and emotionally invasive--in a good way. Her characters are well developed and her books are long. I love it. She really makes you feel for them in her character-driven novels. Each tale tackles a different aspect of child abuse and shows how it can be possible to overcome such tragedy.
Joon's parents die when she is only eight and she is forced into the foster care system. Her foster mother is incredibly abusive and torments her for four long years, much of which is glossed over only to be revealed later in the book by telling bits of her past to friends. When her foster brother tells her he's going to rape her, she runs away. At twelve years old, she finds herself homeless. The novel covers her next seven years in horrifying detail. She experiences loss after loss. She even gets sold into slavery, not too far from the setting of Maggie's own sexual slavery in One Among Us. Though, Maggie is likely only an infant, if she's even been born yet when Joon is going through her own wretched existence.
Paige Dearth's books seem timeless. There is little reference to technology or the cost of things. But when you're dirt-poor, everything seems costly and technology like cellphones are an unnecessary extravagance. What connects them all is the city of Philadelphia and a few characters that dance through when they must. Emma appears in One Among Us as an adult, but she gets her own story in When Smiles Fade, which starts in her abusive childhood home. Tony is also in One Among Us as an adult and Never Be Alone as a teenager. Tony's book about his childhood is Mean Little People. I'm willing to bet that Dearth's other book, Believe Like a Child, is somehow tied into the others, as well. I love it when authors do that. The books go together, but don't have to be read in any order. They're all stand-alone novels, but they all tie into each other somehow.
Never Be Alone didn't just tug on my heartstrings, it ripped me to pieces. I've never cried so much from a book. I've never been so into a book, so moved by its characters, that I had to just put it down and sob for a while. My husband thought something was wrong with me that he kept waking up to find me bawling in the living room in the middle of the night. But I couldn't stop reading it and I couldn't stop crying. Tragedy after tragedy kept striking Joon and I couldn't turn away. I had to know how she got through it all because I knew she had to. I knew there had to be a happy ending for her somewhere, someday. For over 400 pages, I told myself that like a mantra--she has to make it through.
Fiction with MEAN-ing is what Paige Dearth writes. It has deep, powerful messages. It is full of real-life tragedy. These stories are fiction, but someone, somewhere, has gone through things like this. Someone has lived portions of each of these tragedies. Those people need a voice and they are given one in novels like these. Compelling, character-driven, and an emotional rollercoaster that inspires you to do something, to take action. Donate time or money to a homeless shelter, a women's shelter, a shelter for homeless teens...just get out and do something. But first, read this book!